Thursday, June 30, 2005

Lenny's Lawyer

Looks like this will be the last post here for a while - I'm taking a month off driving to finish a writing project. But before I go ... it was interesting watching Bob change the broken wing mirror yesterday afternoon. There were about a dozen facets to the break and together they looked like one of those expanding/contracting aperture mechanisms you find in older style cameras. Each shard crescent-shaped as it fell onto the roadway and was left there to be crunching by passing traffic. I wasn't driving that car last night, and the one I was driving didn't arrive until well after the nominated three o'clock start, so I didn't get on the road until about quarter to four. A late start usually means a slow night but in fact it went like a rocket. I felt oddly nostalgic, it was like being transported back into earlier times when Sydney was a freer, more relaxed and certainly more louche city than it is now. Part of this feeling came from a fare I picked up near Circular Quay around eight o'clock. I was ducking down Albert Street towards the Quay to avoid a traffic jam in Macquarie Street when I saw a couple trying to hail the cab ahead of me. The driver was oblivious, so I sounded my horn and got the fare. A man of about seventy in a suit got in the front, a young black woman in the back. She was laughing at my stratagem, he was fairly well shickered but almost frighteningly coherent. I drove round to the bus station at the Quay, about a hundred metres, and her with the big mouth, as he described her, hopped out. We continued on towards Mosman. He said he'd had a helluva day and I replied that I hoped it was a good one. I'm being blackmailed, he said. These arseholes don't think I know, but I do. Have you ever seen a movie called The Godfather? Well, I'm the guy in the Godfather. He didn't say which guy but later did an excellent imitation of Brando's Don Corleone. It was the speech to the undertaker whose daughter's been raped. You haven't found a horse's head in your bed, have you? I asked but he didn't think that was funny. You probably don't know who Lenny McPherson was, he went on, but I acted for him for thirty years. I learned a lot off Lenny. He said to me once: If I was going to have you killed, I wouldn't tell you. Christ, I thought, I've got Lenny McPherson's lawyer in the cab. Lenny was Sydney's Mr. Big for those thirty years. An old style crim, a hard man, legendary, fearsome and, paradoxically, loved by as many as went in fear of him. According to this guy, he got his start in the illegal casinos that flourished in Surry Hills way back when. Lenny would just walk in and take the money. A guy by the name of Taylor - I missed the first name - decided that, instead of having Lenny on, he would make him part of the organisation. And so it went. There were more stories, which I won't go into here. They were delivered with a precision of speech that had only minimal difficulty overcoming his considerable intoxication. The thing about this guy was that he came from a different world and knew it. Hence his melancholy. Whatever he was being blackmailed about he didn't say, only that he was going to defeat, humiliate and destroy his enemies; but even this rhetoric, delivered with many obscenities, had a kind of weary resignation to it, as if he were making moves that he had long since lost the logic or the passion of. At one moment during the ride, he made a point of looking right at me so that I could see who he was. He had a long hooked nose like the beak of predatory bird and bright dark eyes, also bird-like, set close together, intelligent, bleak, utterly without illusion. They were eyes, I thought, perhaps melodramatically, that were looking death in the face. He was going for dinner with a woman near Spit Junction. When we stopped outside the building, he pulled from his pocket a battered wallet full of nameless bits of paper and many large banknotes. Separated out a twenty then showered a whole lot of shrapnel into my hand. Forget everything I've told you, he said. I'm just an old man reminiscing. And walked off towards the fluorescent lit, blond brick units with his suit jacket hanging down off his thin stooped shoulders the way my father's jackets always fell when he was old.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

between showers

Last night as I drove a couple of hospo nimrods up Devonshire Street in Surry Hills I saw a small car, perhaps a BMW, coming very fast down the hill towards me. And too close, way too close. There was a loud bang and all three of us cried out at once. But all he'd hit was the wing mirror on the driver's side. Those mirrors are sprung, so it snapped inwards. When I wound down the window and snapped it back, I realised it was broken. The glass was still in the frame but there was a four or five facetted star in the centre of the mirror. I called my boss, who suggested I drive out to his place in Ashfield so he could replace it. Take two minutes, he said. Bob's minutes are generally quarter of an hour, plus it was another half hour to get out there. He probably would have given me fifteen dollars downtime, but I could make three times that in an hour, so I decided just to keep going. But the car ... went out in sympathy. Every time the revs dropped, it stalled. If you put it in gear, it would take an age to engage, if it engaged at all. I limped with a fare to Elizabeth Bay then called Bob again. He suggested I look at the hoses under the bonnet. One was a bit loose, so I fixed it on properly but the car still wouldn't go. Take a walk, he said. I wandered round a park down there, smoking a gadang garam. It was greeny dark, everything dripping, the white lights glimmering like in a Delvaux painting. There was a van full of sleeping hippies, the only one awake was the woman at the wheel, reading a book. A guy sitting on the backrest of a park bench talking on his mobile. An old gent in an overcoat, with umbrella, who looked like the fare the radio had just offered me. When I returned to the car it fired up normally and behaved itself until I knocked off about one thirty. A mystery. But for the rest of the night my rearview was a cubist composition of headlights in the rain, distracting both because it was difficult to judge exactly what cars were there and how close they were and also because it was visually intriguing. I kept drifting off into speculative reconstructions of exactly how the shards reflected the images ... perhaps not the best way to negotiate a rainy night in the old town. Nonetheless, the image has stayed with me, as if the composition in the rearview was somehow analogous to the way we see the past, trying to make sense of what's back there in a broken mirror.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

solstice/full moon

Last night I saw a woman sitting in a gutter weeping. I saw another woman, beautiful, heartbreakingly thin, dishevelled, screaming You don't own me! to a man in an Hawaiian shirt. The doorman at the residential hotel sorted him out. In the rearview mirror she was huddled up like a child against a wall, also weeping. I drove down an immaculate nighttime street where outside every other house were placed deck chairs, easy chairs, arm chairs, sofas, as if for a colloquy of ghosts. I heard a man tell his mother she was already at home and, as it was twenty-eight years since he left, no, he would not be back tonight. Then he returned to the difficulties of selling novelty ice-creams. Another man crunched ice cubes so loudly it hurt my ears. A third carried a loaf of sliced white bread in a plastic bag all the way to Lane Cove, returning me to where that ghost furniture was. I thought she said: Take me to L.A. but she was only going to Balmain. All the loonies were out, gnashing their teeth, shouting at the sky, gesticulating ... it was very cold. The music on the radio was atrocious until they started playing the Blues. No-one was being served at the Hungry Wolf. I heard a worker tell the Boss at Teachers Hand Car Wash to slow down or he'd get a heart attack. The woman who sleeps in the bus shelter on the Hume Highway has doubled or maybe tripled her collection of stuffed rubbish bags. It was impossible to descry a human form among the massed shiny lumps piled up and over the shopping trolley. Why was she weeping? Had something happened at the Hospital? I wanted to stop the cab, get out, lift her up and help her on her way, but when the lights changed I just drove on into the other side of midnight.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

strange attractors

One of the odd things about cab driving is that, on any given night, the fact that you have gone to a particular suburb, sometimes a particular street, seems to increase the probability that you will return there. This is something I've noticed often and other drivers have remarked on it too: one guy told me recently he once had three fares in a row to the same street in Paddington. It happened to me yesterday: my first fare of the shift was to Mortdale, where I have never been before; afterwards I drove up the main drag of nearby Penshurst, again a first. About four hours later, there I was again, in Penshurst, dropping off in the exact place I had paused to look around in the afternoon. Both fares I picked up in the City, within two blocks of each other. The logic, or perhaps I should say the mechanism, of this escapes me. Why? Is there some ineluctable convergence at work, some larger, inscrutable, perhaps ultimately meaningless but nevertheless operable, fate determining our movements?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Queen's Birthday

Back in the phantasmagoria ... some Irish chippie who's lost, or left, his tools in the Blue Mountains wants to find a hardware store before tomorrow. A pregnant woman in a hurry to catch her ferry at Circular Quay pours all her change into my hands, including some francs. Three French people at the Avis depot in William Street harrass me all the way into town about the fare on the meter. I pick up a chatty, somewhat troubled guy in Rose Bay and take him into the Star City casino. Turns out he's a cop taking three month's stand down. He says he once had to arrest a guy for a murder way out west somewhere. It was a mafia crime. The guy was packing the .38 he used for the killing, with three shots still in it, and had a loaded .22 automatic in the back seat of his car. Since then, this cop always goes to work with a bullet proof vest on. He says he couldn't do my job without his 9 shot Glock pistol. I say I couldn't do it with one. As I drop him off (he's meeting his 'business partner') he says he won't gamble tonight. Later, much later, on my way back to the depot, I see a Silver Service cab refuse a fare and take it instead. A wild looking Indian guy and a lumpy young woman. They want to go to the McDonalds in Stanmore, the same one where there was a shooting in the carpark not so long ago. I wait among the usual suspects while they pick up their order then take them back to Leichhardt. In Norton Street the guy wants me to stop again. He comes back from the Medical Centre with a packet of condoms. I already know it's a seduction, from the conversation. At the block of flats he wants me to drive into the narrow alley running down the side of the building. He doesn't have the money for the fare. He'll get it. I stare into the bare, blank, fluorescent stairwell while strange electronic music plays on the radio. What'll I do if he doesn't come back? The timer light in the stairwell clicks off then immediately on again. That means he's on his way. With elaborate courtesy, he counts out the fare ... I drive away with the image of his girlfriend's face in my mind: pulpy, bruised looking, as if she was taking psychiatric drugs, her look mingles apology and resignation. A bouncer outside a pub up the road hails me, a little guy in his sixties, maybe, wearing a checked jacket comes puffing down the street. I take him to Rockdale. On the way back up the Princes Highway, at a red light, two homeboys come over to the passenger side window. They're Indian too. Can I take them to Kogarah Station? I can't, it's late, I'm too tired, I'm nearly out of gas ... I abandon them to their fate, whatever it may be. At the late opener in Ashfield I allow myself an after work beer. A very drunk guy playing pool asks for a Gadang Garam then insists on paying 50c for it. He goes on and on about how sweet it tastes. The Greek bouncer and the Chinese bar girl are playing some complex game of flirtation and threat with each other while young hoods confer in the booths. When I finally get home it's after 2 am and the late night movie on ABC is Emir Kusturica's Underground. It's a wedding sequence. Everyone is drunk and abusive. The band revolves on a stand, blowing mad brass riffs. There's a military tank in the cellar. A monkey climbs into the hatch. The monkey's climbed into the tank! someone yells ... I can't handle this. Is it life or art? Or some third thing, made of both? Or of neither ... ?

Saturday, June 11, 2005


Philip Glass's accountant caught a cab one night in New York City. He was astonished to find that his driver was ... Philip Glass. Who explained he needed to get out at night and meet more new people.

An earlier experience with Mr Glass as taxi driver is here ...

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Green Cape

I gotta write about this other guy I met yesterday. I was at the rank on Bondi Beach, my favourite rank, you can lean on the sea wall and look out over the ocean towards Aotearoa. There's never anybody there, any other cabs I mean. So I got out to light up a gadang garam (yeah, I cracked, stressed out, bad news ... ) and there was this big guy standing there in a T shirt, sky blue shorts, runners, a milkshake in one hand and a mobile in the other, speaking very loudly about those fuckers in the Immigration Department. Our eyes met and I wondered if he wanted to go somewhere. He was quite dark, black curly hair, maybe Arab, maybe not. His accent though had that wonderful familiar Maori cast to it. Anyway, I smoked and eavesdropped, he talked and then, eventually, having made an arrangment to go round and see who he was calling, cut the connection. Do you want a taxi? I asked. Yeah, man, but finish your smoke. There's no hurry. He was Brazilian. We talked about Césaria Évora. He remembered his grandmother listening to her just a few weeks ago. And other things. Fado. The Cape Verde Islands. Easter Island. He'd been in Australia since he was eleven. Still on a Brazilian passport, but he wanted to go back for a visit, first time since he came, seventeen years ago. Nothing violent, but I've done a few things. B & E mostly. A year inside. Now the fuckers are trying to say if I go back to Brazil, they won't let me in again. But I've sorted it out. It's sweet. He spoke like he did because he works with Maori and Islander guys, fitting steel plates for tunnels and other major constructions. When we got going he said Don't turn the meter on, man, fucking Howard can't tax what he doesn't know about. I know how much it is, it's always four bucks. This is an old Sydney custom, fast dying out ... you decide beforehand what the trip'll cost and travel without the meter ticking. It changes the whole relationship, you instantly become friends sharing a ride, not customer and service provider. The cab turns into a Gypsy Cab, there's a low grade licit thrill even in that. I took him up Bondi Road a ways, stopped outside the Royal on the corner of Denham Street. He produced five bucks from somewhere. We shook hands. Rapanui, he said. Miles from fucking anywhere. How'd those Maoris get there? They paddled, I said. We laughed and said goodbye.


I was at the Bondi Junction rank last evening when a young man in a suit rapped on the boot of the cab. I opened it. He and another guy in a white chef's jacket manhandled an oil heater into the boot. I thought I'd be taking the suit home with his purchase but it was the other guy who got in. We were replacing a defective heater bought that day by a woman in Double Bay. She needed a new one urgently because she was having a dinner party that night. Her place was full of heavy antique furniture and she herself was Austrian or German, about sixty, hair in a French roll, cheerful ... she knew the guy who was delivering the heater because she'd bought some cheese off him that day as well. He was Bulgarian and the buyer in the cheese department at David Jones. Don't ask me why it fell to him to deliver a replacement heater. We talked cheese all the way back from Double Bay to the Junction ... fetta, gorgonzola, stilton rolled off our tongues ... as well as discussing the habits of the wealthy. A nice guy. And a happy man, as happy as only twenty years buying cheese could make him. When he got out, he left me with a blank, signed cab charge docket and a dilemma. How much should I charge David Jones for this service? The $25.25 on the meter or ... something more?

The night before I'd picked up a young fellow at The Object House in Surry Hills, going to Homebush Bay, where he lived in one of the units built to house the contestants at the 2000 Olympics. In his case the Nigerian athletes. He too was travelling on a cab charge docket, as he divulged almost as soon as he got in the cab, which is of course a mistake. This gradually became clear to him while, driving west, we chatted. He realised that the $80.00 fare for the same journey another cab driver had charged him was at least double what the trip was worth. That cabbie had detoured through the North Shore. He was a sweet young guy, just twenty, with a soft, furry attempt at a beard on his chin. He worked for Alpine Offset, who print many of the glossy mags from Kerry Packer's empire. Alpine Offset are notorious in Australia because of a fire at their Homebush plant in 1993. It turned out the facility had just been insured for a sum vastly in excess of its actual value; the owners, a 'prominent' Labor Senator, a 'colourful' stockbroker and one of Packer's executives, banked their shares of the insurance money in numbered Swiss accounts ... millions and millions of dollars.

Anyway. The young guy filled out the cab charge docket for an amount about ten dollars in excess of the metered fare, but still only just over half of the eighty bucks he'd been charged last time. And the David Jones one? I wrote in the sum I needed to make up my pay-in for last night without contributing any actual cash to the envelope ... in other words, I gave myself a tip of about $15.00. Do I feel guilty? No. Am I worried about being caught? Yes. But after all rorting ... is the great Australian sport.